The Hammer

B+

The Hammer

Nobody expects greatness from Adam Carolla, the wisecracking second banana on two of the more noxious television programs of the past decade: The Man Show and Loveline. Heck, people barely expect adequacy from the veteran radio personality. So at least some of the positive buzz surrounding his feature-film vehicle The Hammer seems attributable to low expectations. Like its hard-luck title character, the ramshackle comedy boasts the element of surprise. The Hammer sure doesn't look like much on paper: a television journeyman and novice actor leading a no-name cast in a low-budget comic variation on the tried-and-true Rocky formula. But much of the film's charm comes from its scruffy, self-effacing modesty; it's a relaxed, affable underdog about a relaxed, affable underdog.

Carolla makes an unexpectedly assured transition to leading man as a 40-year-old carpenter who long ago gave up on dreams of boxing glory in favor of a solid, mildly soul-crushing working-class existence. But Carolla gets an unexpected second chance at glory when a prominent trainer with ulterior motives takes him under his wing. Carolla starts off as little more than an unpaid punching dummy, serving as an unwitting sparring partner for a younger, more promising boxer. Yet through hard work, heart, and the miracle of boxing-movie clichés, he quickly morphs from chump to contender.

Like his character, Carolla once toiled as a carpenter, and The Hammer is infused with a loving eye for the details of blue-collar life, from the protagonist's grey little apartment and taunting, much-abused alarm clock to a scene where Carolla and an unbilled Jane Lynch engage in deadpan one-upmanship by trading impenetrable home-improvement jargon. A populist crowd-pleaser and nifty little sleeper, The Hammer ambles along agreeably on the strength of its star's likeable turn and a tone that's subtle and disarmingly sweet. In yet another unexpected twist—at least by Man Show and Loveline standards—the film gives Carolla a love interest (Heather Juergensen, of Kissing Jessica Stein semi-fame) who's smart, substantive, quirky, and not the typical twentysomething glamour girl. The Hammer is shockingly not bad. Even more shockingly, it's quite good.

Key features: Amusing deleted scenes, a freewheeling conversation between Carolla and sidekick Oswaldo Castillo, and a loose, self-deprecating audio commentary from Carolla and screenwriter Kevin Hench.